sweeping

We have a ritual in Aikido where we sweep the mat after each class. Right after bowing out, we head over, grab a broom, line up, and sweep up. Sounds simple. Looking at it from a utilitarian standpoint, it makes sense to do this. It cleans up the mat for the next group of us who’ll be rolling around on it, right? True, very true. We’ll see people on the first day of class run over, grab a broom, and start whaling away with it. They’re sometimes out of sync with the group and whatever dust, hair, etc. they’re not grinding into the mat, they’re stirring up in the air. This lasts about 30 seconds before a higher ranked student will walk over and explain that we don’t sweep that way.

What’s important to understand is that sweeping is one of the last techniques of the day. While we’re sweeping, we’re aware of where everyone else is and we work together. Also, we don’t take huge hacks at the mat like we’re raking leaves. We take a smaller brushstroke like approach, barely coming into contact with the mat and just ‘pushing’ the fuzzies towards the destination. While we do this, our posture is straight. This way, if we’re attacked, we can wield the broom mightily, effectively, and with the upmost economy of motion to get the job done before we jump back in line and finish sweeping along with the rest of the group.

I know, sounds silly. Why don’t we just vacuum? It’d be much easier. Well, you probably saw this coming, but as always in this art, there’s various lessons to be learned here. Rebutting the above utilitarian view, we sweep in small motions so as to keep the debris from flying around and also not to damage the mat by ‘scratching’ it several times a day with the broom. The thing is, not only do we sweep in small motions, but those motions are usually pretty fast. Only way to do this is to stay relaxed, centered, and while maintaining good posture. If we were tight and off-balance, there’s no way we could sweep like this. As in good technique, we must relax the shoulders, focus on center, extend our peripheral vision, and put forth positive juju. Staying with the rest of the group shows us that it’s not just working in numbers that matter, but working efficiently in numbers is what makes it more effective. If we were to just spread out and go gangbusters, most of us would be working against each other leading to wasted effort and poor results.

I’ll end on the lesson that sometimes simple, mundane rituals can be very soothing and effective. Sweeping the mat leads to a more clean environment and soul. When we’re done, we usually feel refreshed (if following the above sweeping technique). It adds a sense of finality to the class. We don’t just train, sweat our asses off, beat up the mat and leave. We finish with a cleansing purification type exercise. This is a much better energy to end on.

Try this at work or at home. After doing crazy hard work, don’t just end abruptly and go home or to bed. Take a minute or ten to stop. Mindfully clean up your area a bit. Maybe take some deep breaths or something. Try to end on a replenishing note rather than a grueling, negative note. This will carry through to the next time you take another crack at it, and your space will be much more welcoming than if you were to just leave abruptly.

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how to mindfully begin class…

So, I thought it would be important to write about how to mindfully begin each class.  A lot of training happens before even bowing in.  Here ya go…

–   When walking, riding, driving, crawling, limping, or rolling up to the Dojo, begin letting go of whatever road rage (sidewalk rage if you’re walking) you may currently have. Be thankful for the vehicle you’re in (even if it’s your body).

–   Harmoniously park (if you’re driving) without bumping any other cars. This can be especially frustrating if you live in a place like Reno, NV where nobody knows how to parallel park. Look at it as part of the training, Grasshopper, whooosaaah.

–   When you get out of your car (Again, drivers only. However, if you are walking, you may attempt to step out of your body for a second and have an out of body experience while hovering above it. I’ll leave that up to you), release the tension out of your legs and hips as you walk towards the dojo. Sink into the pavement with each step. Relax the shoulders.

–   Approaching the entrance, realize that you’re entering sacred ground. Not in a religious sense, but in a personal sense. C’mon, you know this place is awesome, or you wouldn’t come here. Appreciate and respect that, it’s a great way to start the training session.

–   As soon as you enter, focus your attention towards the Shomen (front of the Dojo) and give it an abbreviated but mindful bow. While doing this, you’re leaving whatever might have been going on outside in your hectic life just where it should be… In the s**tcan. That’s right, all of that doesn’t matter now. Prepare for transformation, baby! Oh, and don’t forget to take off your shoes either, damn ‘Mericans.

–   If you wore your training gi to the dojo, good on ya, especially if you walked. You’re pretty much a boss. If you have to change like us mere mortals, do so in a harmonious fashion. Think about throwing on some deodarant. If you’re having a conversation and the real heavy part of it happens during the part of changing where you’re just in your skivvies, don’t stop there and continue talking in just your drawers. Talking and changing is part of the training, don’t stop the flow.

–   Come out of the dressing room and open up your peripheral. Feel the energy of the dojo. See the mat and take everything in. What’s going to happen on that mat tonight? What are you gonna make out of your time? Where are you right now? Be here! This is a privelege not many people can afford. It’s good stuff.

–   Bow again to the Shomen before stepping on the mat. If you’re late and class is in session, be mindful of when you bow in. You’ll know when the time is right if you’re paying attention. When you step out on the mat, reeeaaallly relax your shoulders, hips, eyelashes, and everything. Let all of the tension go. Sink into the mat. If you have time, do some light stretching. Make eye contact and at least acknowledge the other people on the mat with you. You don’t have to be chatty, just mindful and welcoming. This isn’t the octagon.

–   Be mindful of where Sensei is at the time. Line up in your proper place on time even if Sensei hasn’t started class yet. Use this time to sit in seiza and relax even more. Become even more fully present to the opportunity which the upcoming class opens you up to. Open your peripheral even more (Get this, even if you’re eyes are closed. You can do it Grasshopper).

–   Every dojo is different in how they bow in. However it is, this is huge. You’re now entering into training. This is another chance to toss what’s going on outside the dojo and fully come into the moment. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time and money. Be there. If you happen to clap like we do, feel the timing in that, and please, no premature eclapulation.

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higher

A beautiful thing about Aikido is that it dwells in the higher echelon of emotion. Aikido at it’s higher levels is performed with grace. It’s taking an ugly conflict and moving in a non-resistant but highly powerful way with it. It’s being in full control and not in compliance to the whims of the lizard brain. It’s ultimate goal is taking an attack from the lower emotions (fear, greed, lust, etc) and transforming it into a peaceful situation born of the higher emotions (couragessness, acceptance, peace, etc.). What a great intention. How can this translate off the mat? I think a better question is how can this NOT translate off the mat?

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ukemi, a conversation

We Aikidoists fall a lot. Some say it’s 50% of the art. If we don’t do it right, it hurts. So we learn to go along with things so it doesn’t… As much. At one level, ukemi (falling) can be seen as just that, falling. Learning how to fall. As we progress, we learn that it’s much more than that. It’s receiving. Receiving energy, receiving intention, receiving force, and receiving it differently from everybody. Ron’s probably going to have different technique than Chris, so I have to adapt.

When we really look into it, Ukemi is also in applying the technique. We’re still receiving. Ron’s going to attack differently than Chris. This can’t be textbook. We have to feel it and be present with the energy, whatever that may be. Carried off the mat, we see the principles of ukemi everywhere. In a conversation, I need to be receptive to many different things on many different levels. I need to be receptive to the person(s) I’m conversing with. I need to be receptive if they come up with something out of left field that I wasn’t expecting. I need to be receptive if they take something I say differently than I may have thought they would. I need to be receptive to my intention and possibly changing direction as we go along. I need to be receptive to my emotions throughout the conversation and aware of how to handle them (the other person can feel them even if I don’t verbally express exactly what they are). I need to be receptive to any others that may possibly be joining the conversation. Okay, I’ll stop now. I could go on. Bottom line is ukemi is everything. Now we see ukemi going from 50% of the situation to 100%. Learning to take good ukemi is time not wasted.

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directions

Look at how much information is out there today. Start to type in a Google search, and the answer is there in front of us before we even finish typing it. I heard the other day that more content on the internet is created daily than was created between the year 1300 AD and 2000 (Something like that, excuse me if I’m off by a few years, Google isn’t finding it now.). More video is uploaded to Youtube in 60 days than all of the television networks broadcasted in 60 years (http://mashable.com/2011/02/19/youtube-facts/). Everyone has directions. Following directions is easy now. There’s plenty of them out there and we all have access to really good directions. Hence, following directions has lost it’s value. Most everyone’s doing it.

Making new ones is where the value is now. Sure, there’s a lot of other people out there doing it (see above statistics) but if you can write your own directions, it’s more powerful now than it ever has been due to the vast audience waiting for them. Following directions may be how we learn. At some point we have to step out into the unknown and just start doing something different. Figure out a new way to do something. Chart your own course.

We’ll never be done. There’s always unlimited opportunity for positive change and growth no matter how much information is out there. It just takes some metal to step out of the textbook and make new steps.

We have the three levels in Aikido that my teacher talks about. We start with static (textbook), then go into flowing (application), and then finally to unlimited creative techniques (creation). Takemusu, baby! Onegaishimasu.

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